Agricultural intensification has been a major factor in the loss of global biodiversity. Still, agricultural landscapes provide important habitat for many bird species, particularly in the Central Valley of California, USA, where >90% of the natural wildlife habitat has been lost. As wildlife professionals increasingly work with agricultural producers to promote ‘wildlife-friendly’ farming, it is important to understand the relative value of specific crops and field management practices to birds. The value to wintering waterbirds of seven treatments (crop and management practice combinations) across two crops (corn and winter wheat) was assessed at Staten Island in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta of the Central Valley. Significant variation in the relative abundance of waterbirds was found among management practices, and post-harvest flooding and chopping and rolling (mulching) of corn were most beneficial to waterbirds. As expected, most waterbirds were common in flooded treatments, but geese, cranes and long-legged waders also were numerous in some dry treatments. Our data suggest that a greater waterbird species richness and abundance can be achieved by maintaining a mosaic of dry and flooded crop types, varying water depths and continuing the chop-and-roll practice for flooded corn. The observed benefits of particular crops and field management practices in this study should aid in the development of incentive-based programs to improve the habitat value of other working lands both within, and outside, the Delta.